• Theodore Bikel’s Tefillin Story

    Two Hassidim approached me and said, “You are Mr. Bikel,” and I said, “Yes, and you are Lubavitcher Hassidim.” They asked, “How do you know?” and I said, “If you weren’t, you would not be here. Other Hassidim don’t go around among other Jews” • Full Story

    Let me also tell you a story about the Hassidim. Not all Hassidim are adverse to going into the Jewish community and making converts. While we discourage making converts in general, there is no law in the book that says you cannot proselytize your own. I was on a boat to the Statue of Liberty. We had two boatloads of Jewish kids going there to have a protest meeting about Soviet Jewry.

    It seemed a good place to do it and it was a Sunday morning. Two Hassidim approached me and said, “You are Mr. Bikel,” and I said, “Yes, and you are Lubavitcher Hassidim.” They asked, “How do you know?” and I said, “If you weren’t, you would not be here. Other Hassidim don’t go around among other Jews.”

    They said, “Mr. Bikel, have you put on tefillin this morning?” I replied that I had not. They asked me to put on tefillin so that the kids should see me doing it. I said, “I don’t mind putting on tefillin. I have not done it for some time, but would it not be dishonest? In your book I am probably not what you call a kosher Jew. I am not as strict as you.

    The theater has not stopped performances on Friday night. I go on airlines and who knows what kind of food they serve. For all these reasons, would it not be dishonest if I put on tefillin out of the blue?” They said, “Not really,” and when I asked why, they answered, “The Rebbe has evolved the theory of one mitzvah at a time.”

    They explained it this way. There are 613 mitzvos in the book. Tefillin is just one of them, but if you start with putting on tefillin and you do it regularly, eventually you are going to end up praying. Their answer amused me, but it also made sense. So I took off my coat and put on tefillin.

    While I am at it, I thought, I might as well daven, recite, the morning prayers (see? this partial thing was already working), and so I did that also.

    And now comes the American part. They brought out a big yellow button, like a campaign button, but twice the size, and pinned it on me.

    The button said, “I put on tefillin this morning, did you?”



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    1. very nice

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